I am not a great menu planner. I make shopping lists only to leave them behind, along with clipped coupons that sit accusingly on my desk by the phone. I “remember” to buy some obscure ingredient like clam juice over and over again until I have enough on hand to make paella for an army except that I’ve forgotten to buy rice. A good friend of mine keeps a list on her refrigerator with the meals planned out for the week and I always marvel at her efficiency. I imagine how nice it must be to walk in after work knowing exactly what’s for supper. Instead I stand with my head in the fridge wondering if I can turn three eggs, a celery stalk, and leftover baked ham into a main dish for five. A while ago I was a person who each night looked forward to cooking supper and eating at a reasonable hour, say eight, and now that I have three boys I am busting it to have supper by six followed by homework sessions until nine when, if I’m lucky, I remember to start the dryer so the boys won’t have to wear damp pants to school again tomorrow.
It is a sign of the times that my boys ask me “is it a family night?” before dinner as “family night” means we sit down together, turn off Sponge Bob, and practice not eating like a pack of feral dogs fighting over the contents of a turned over garbage can. Since we seem stuck in overdrive with activities and appointments, I’ve found myself relying on a few “tricks” to have easy meals ready with minimal fuss or mess. One simple idea is to double the amount of pasta that you cook for a hot meal and save half of the pasta after cooling and zip it up in a gallon size Ziploc bag mixed with a tablespoon of olive oil. It is easy to reheat for the base of a leftovers dish when you can add any variety of cooked vegetables, meat and cheese. One favorite of ours for leftover pasta is a simple sauce made from cream cheese melted with butter and thinned with milk to which chopped fresh herbs like chives and thyme are added and tossed with the pasta, leftover ham and a handful of frozen petite peas. Another idea for the pasta is to create a pasta salad perfect for summer temperatures. My favorite comes from my friend Meg because it makes so much you can share it with a friend, is very easy to make and gets even better with time. I have taken this dish to countless picnics and chosen it when I need to take someone dinner too. Everyone always asks for the recipe.
Fresh Herb Chicken Pasta Salad
1 pound cooked and drained pasta (I use bow ties but any will work)
1 cup Italian Dressing
6 cups chopped cooked chicken
1 cup mayonnaise
1 14 ounce can quartered artichoke hearts
2 Tablespoons chopped Italian parsley
1 bunch chopped green onions
2 Tablespoons chopped fresh oregano
Combine pasta with Italian dressing in large bowl and marinate in fridge for a few hours. Add chicken, artichoke hearts, mayonnaise, parsley, green onions, oregano and basil and mix well. Chill.